The FFA has just terminated the A-League license of struggling Gold Coast United. This comes after a massive war of words between Franky Lowy and Gold Coast owner Clive Palmer, the latest instalment of which came today when Palmer tweeted: We intend to fight this ludicrous decision by incompetent FFA in the courts. Frank Lowy is an institution who now belongs in an institution.

As the battle rages on, here’s a nice wider perspective on the battle of the billionaires from first time Puncher and soccer nut Stewart Prins.

How Lowy can you go, Clive?

A-League football had one of its more mysterious moments on the weekend when colourful franchise owner Clive Palmer sent his Gold Coast United (GCU) team out onto the field with the message “Freedom of Speech” plastered across the front of their playing strip.

Neither Mr Palmer nor his Gold Coast United CEO Clive Messink offered an explanation for the late change to the playing strip, or for the advertising billboards quoting the same slogan.

The strange advertisement came after a controversial fortnight where Mr Palmer appointed a 17 year-old debutant as acting club captain, sacked the coach and lambasted FFA bosses as incompetent and overpaid.

The soap opera has taken the gloss of a largely successful season in the A-League, and has left the future of the Gold Coast-based club under a cloud.

But while the discussion around Gold Coast United has focussed on the erratic behaviour of its owner, the situation has exposed another issue which deserves to looked at: professional football’s reliance on the benevolence of a billionaire boys club to stay afloat.

The league is increasingly operating at the behest of mining magnates. Apart from GCU, the Newcastle Jets is owned Nathan Tinkler, Perth Glory is owned by Tony Sage, and Brisbane Roar is now owned by controversial Indonesian tycoon Aburizal Bakrie.

Is this situation healthy? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being beholden to a small cadre of rich men?

The advantages are obvious: they have bucket-loads of cash and are happy to spend it. Running a professional soccer club is expensive, so it makes sense to call in people who can afford to do it, and who don’t mind burning some money along the way.

But the disadvantages are profound, and not just when an owner “goes rogue”. Clubs are by nature collectives, comprising payers, members and supporters. The people need to feel a sense of belonging to the collective.

When a club becomes the personal play-thing of one individual, it fundamentally loses its meaning.

The disenfranchisement of club supporters was evident on the Gold Coast on Saturday night, where GCU’s supporter group – known as ‘The Beach’ – held aloft a banner that read “FFA save GCU”.  I guess that’s freedom of speech.

The reliance on mining billionaires to fund the professional game is also indicative of a mindset that has pervaded the administration of football for years – a view that football is somehow broken, and in need of a saviour. Terry Venables, John O’Neill, Frank Lowy, Guus Hiddink, Robbie Fowler, Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton, mining billionaires – the list of football’s supposed white knights is long and illustrious.

And then there was the biggest white knight (turned white elephant): the World Cup bid.

It’s a cargo cult mentality, a top-down approach that believes that the next big thing will come along and spark a wave of interest in professional football, and the benefits then flow through to the rest of the sport.

There are two things wrong with this view. Firstly, it hasn’t really worked.  All of the people mentioned above have made a significant contribution to the sport, but A-League clubs are still struggling to gain a solid foothold in our competitive professional sporting market.

Secondly, the cargo cult mentality fails to understand football’s greatest strength. Football is easily the most popular participation sport in the country. According to Frank Lowy himself, football has 1.7 million active participants in Australia.

At the grass-roots level, football is absolutely flying, but the interest in football isn’t translating into an interest in the A-League.

The top-down approach to this conundrum looks to impose board-room solutions.  It’s about the next marketing gimmick, or about bringing in another business mate with deep pockets. But why not turn this model upside down? If we built football from from the base up, from the strong foundation that’s already in place, the game would look a lot different.

In fact, it may look more like FC Barcelona – arguably the world’s most successful football club. As Social Business Australia’s Melina Morrison pointed out on this week’s 3Q program, FC Barcelona is owned and run by its supporters.

Indeed there is a growing movement in the UK and across Europe of football clubs that have at least partial supporter-ownership. Clubs like AFC Wimbledon, for example, have been created by local supporters, while other groups like Dons Supporters Together in Aberdeen are organising and demanding a real stake in their local club.

And, dare are I say it, member-ownership is the structure used by clubs in Australia’s most successful professional football code – the AFL.

Of course, the member-ownership may not be the answer to all of football’s problems in Australia, but neither is Clive Palmer. Rich people who are willing to get involved the game should be welcomed, but the game should not be reliant on them.

And instead of always looking to the sky for the next big thing, the administrators of football in this country need to look down and think about the big thing that’s already at their feet: the huge community of football fans who want their game back.

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    • Andre says:

      01:56pm | 29/02/12

      I think football is becoming more popular, but I think you are right the A-league isn’t becoming more popular, people like to see the best people playing which is in Europe (Premier League etc.).

      The advantage Rugby League and AFL has over football is that they are they best leagues in the world for their respective sports, you won’t see a better competition for those sports anywhere.

    • ronny jonny says:

      02:11pm | 29/02/12

      Soccer, who cares?

    • fml says:

      07:14am | 01/03/12

      Your mum.

    • Parranormal says:

      02:20pm | 29/02/12

      I am with Big Clive on this one. The FFA members should be on salaries which are linked to the performance of the A-league. The huge salaries they get which is about 10-20 times David Gallops from Rugby league should be chopped. Frank Lowy was a complete embarassment as our representative for the World cup farce. It is a remarkably skilled game completely ruined by the prancing nancy-boys who are constantly faking fouls. The entire game seems riddled with corruption. Shut the whole thing down and get rid of the FFA - no one will notice them missing.

    • Luis says:

      03:41pm | 29/02/12

      I am with you on this one Parranormal!!! people are blind as though. people in this country are so Apethetic its ridiculous and cant handle someone being a straight shooter! what a joke

    • pete says:

      06:05pm | 29/02/12

      Lots of accusations about FFA without foundation.
      What corruption?
      And who to shut down FFA? It’s members, yes, it has members through the states and territories. The government? Politics is not permitted in football and governments are barred from any direct involvement under fifa rules.
      The government-led Smith Review last year gave the game a clean bill of health - the FFA administration is one of the very best and most transparent.
      It is one rogue owner at fault here - and nothing more. And for the good of the game, he had to go.

    • SteveKAG says:

      07:02am | 01/03/12

      “Politics is not permitted in football and governments are barred from any direct involvement under fifa rules.”

      Last time i checked governments made laws not Fifa.

    • SLF says:

      02:31pm | 29/02/12

      I think it is a model more and more clubs will use, even in the Premier League where rights issues for my own impoverished club (Everton) could be a way of helping compete with the $$$ from oil barons and ogliarchs who see soccer as their own personal real live game of football manager.

      It is certainly something that fans should consider here, but will the money be there, not so sure. But would I rather fans own a club or someone who uses it for their own bizarre reasons? Fans without a doubt.

      To be honest soccer needs looking at at all levels of the game, especially in regards to funding. It is by far the most expensive kids sport to play, with club memberships up here (brisbane) more that any other code at U6 level and up with a dispoportionate amount of the $ seeming to go to administration rather than clubs.

    • SM says:

      02:33pm | 29/02/12

      Only in soccer…

    • Sean says:

      03:28pm | 29/02/12

      Really? You might recall a time where the ARL had a team called the Gold Coast Chargers. They were owned by a millionaire whose wife sometimes chose the team based on the attractiveness of the players’ behinds.

    • mahony says:

      03:45pm | 29/02/12

      ANd what was the Super League debacle?  I cant even count the number of teams that were damaged by that adventurism.

    • Dan Webster says:

      02:37pm | 29/02/12

      >> The game needs more coverage on TV. <<

      Compared to the Europeans, our style of the game is too slow and relies on brute more than ball skill.

      I love when billionaires fight. It shows their true colours.

    • Tom says:

      05:18pm | 29/02/12

      you obviously don’t watch the A-League. It’s getting better all the time.

    • bazza says:

      02:56pm | 29/02/12

      Soccer in Aust was once ruled by the Italians, Greeks, Yugoslavs and Poms. Today it is ruled by a billionaire and refugees. Who gives a rats about what happens

    • mahony says:

      04:18pm | 29/02/12

      1.7 million people who play, officiate or attend games each year?

    • fml says:

      07:15am | 01/03/12

      refugees?

      You sir are delusional.

    • Lance says:

      03:10pm | 29/02/12

      The massive paypackets at the FFA are a complete joke!  The FFA needs to take a good hard look at itself, because once again our awesome game is in danger of being torn apart by the corruption that seems so common in football’s governing bodies.  Best season so far, and then we get this ... shooting ourselves in the foot once again!

    • nihonin says:

      03:25pm | 29/02/12

      Wonder who’‘l take their ball and go home first.  :D

    • Toady says:

      03:34pm | 29/02/12

      The only thing that will save the A-League is if it obtains never-ending funding from the government, the same way that the car manufacturers do.  Why do people still labour under the illusion that professional soccer has a real future in this country?  Want to see successful codes? Look at the AFL and the NRL. They have what soccer doesn’t have - tens of thousands of paying supporters going to their games week in, week out, and hundreds of successful local footy clubs with families putting in their own dollars, time and effort to promote the game.  I would also argue that soccer is not really a team sport, particularly at junior level where the best player usually becomes the striker and the rest of the kids are there to make up the numbers.  Subsequently, most kids lose interest as they get older.  Really, it is a ‘mummy’s boy’ game, but that is just my opinion!

    • fml says:

      07:22am | 01/03/12

      You really have no clue do you?

      Soccer is not a team sport?

      AFL and NRL players are a pack of animals and behave as such off field.

    • Toady says:

      09:19am | 01/03/12

      Yes, I do really have a clue.  Read my comments again - referring to junior soccer.  My son played for two years, before moving to AFL.  What really stood out in soccer was the two best kids being made the focal point of the team, and kids berated for not passing to them when his team had possession. 

      Soccer fans are a pack of animals and behave as such off field.  No need for players to behave like animals - there’s no room for them.  How many race riots do you see at the AFL, how many flares do you see being lit in the stands?  Defend the sport all you like, but if it is so fantastic and popular, why aren’t the fans flocking to the games?  Where are the billion dollar tv deals?  Fact is, it is a second rate game in Australia and will never thrive the way the other two major codes thrive.

    • Gregg says:

      03:50pm | 29/02/12

      Crikey, when will these guys wake up and follow the real sports of Rugby or AFL

    • Don says:

      04:29pm | 29/02/12

      99.99% of the world’s population doesn’t want to.

    • Alfie says:

      06:24pm | 29/02/12

      No Don, I’d say there are definitely more than 700,000 followers. I like soccer but don’t force me to watch it using the argument because that what the rest of the world does. The highest average attendance of any sporting league in the world is the NFL in the USA. Do they care that thier game is barely played outside USA - no.

    • fml says:

      07:24am | 01/03/12

      Aflie,

      Who cares about average attendance? its about numbers.

      Do the Americans care about their sport being played outside the USA? No. Thats the point, they dont care about much that happens outside the USA. Gregg is showing the same mentality.

    • always a bigger fish says:

      10:53am | 01/03/12

      You mean a rational mentality of following what he likes because he likes it, instead of a just because it’s liked by other people? People with your mentality are weak. Your interest in soccer has nothing to do with the sport itself. You identify with soccer because you’re insecure and want to associate with the “biggest” sport in an attempt to assert superiority over others. If basketball was the worlds biggest sport, you’d be all over that. I bet you drive an oversized 4WD too.

      As a thought experiment, how would you feel about soccer if it was only played in England? How would you feel about it if tomorrow aliens landed and revealed their was a much bigger sport played right across the galaxy, and by comparison soccer was a puny little local game? So would you be the first to welcome our new alien overlords, or would you not care much about what happens outside the Earth?

    • Bruno says:

      03:52pm | 29/02/12

      It’s a good model. Most Iberian clubs are owned by their members. Most club decisions are put to vote. At times it can be hard to get things done though. Depending on the passion levels of members general meetings can become riots. But hey if the standards of my league are crap why shouldn’t I be able to sell all my clubs to foreign billionaires to buy foreign players to the detriment of my national team. I’ll just hire a foreign coach for that job and I may even consider naturalizing foreigners who are not good enough to play for their country of birth. LONG LIVE KEN BATES!

    • FCB ACT says:

      03:55pm | 29/02/12

      Of course the antithesis of The Gold Coast $50000 to get a team is Canberra’s community based bid with $4million, and the W-League champions, but which is persistently told by the billionaires club - get more money.  We are supposed to support the Central Coast Mariners - where the connection is there I don’t know. 
      The only good issue Palmer has raised are the ridiculous salries the top FFA staff pay themselves - I question who they are accountable to.

    • dickydale says:

      04:15pm | 29/02/12

      I think you are spot on - the FFA should give you a job!

    • Paleoflatus says:

      04:22pm | 29/02/12

      Who’s going to pay almost 100 bucks a month for Foxtel + Fox Sports, just to watch a game or two a week? I live half-way between Skilled Park and the Nerang railway station, so driving away to Nerang to retrace my steps to Robina is silly. Parking around Skilled Park is out of the question, so I’ll never go again, after watching most of one game after waiting half an hour in the queue for my ticket.
      Overseas soccer on SBS is great, however, but I know almost nothing about this thing they call the “A-League”.

    • TonyC says:

      04:37pm | 29/02/12

      I have to agree with everyone on the salaries paid to the administrators especially after the World Cup debacle & cost! Half that money should be allocated for junior development.

    • TonyC says:

      04:37pm | 29/02/12

      I have to agree with everyone on the salaries paid to the administrators especially after the World Cup debacle & cost! Half that money should be allocated for junior development.

    • Harden up says:

      05:02pm | 29/02/12

      Here’s the problem:
      1.7 million active participants*

      *...under the age of 12.

      As soon as the kid is old enough to tell his mum to get stuffed, he plays a sport that will get him the girls, not get him called a girl.
      Ya girls.

    • Dreary says:

      06:05pm | 29/02/12

      lol brilliant and soo true ... it is exactly what i did when i was a kid

    • fml says:

      07:26am | 01/03/12

      Ummm it happens in most sports,

      thats when kids discover sex and booze, its not specifically a soccer issue.

    • Corrupt League says:

      05:57pm | 29/02/12

      Yep the A League is just one massive circle jerk of rich football ‘administrators’ keeping themselves and their families and friends employed.
      Has been for years, that is why it always falls over in a cyclic fashion.

    • Vicki PS says:

      06:00pm | 29/02/12

      The malaise isn’t only affecting soccer.  Sport ceased to be a community activity when virtually all sports went professional.  Now sport is just expensive, pointless and fairly brainless entertainment.  Frankly, there are a lot of other activities I’d rather pay to be entertained by and participate in.

    • Mik says:

      10:44am | 01/03/12

      Agreed. Better for a group of parents to get together and take the children for games up at the local park. A whole lot cheaper, and healthier for all involved (rather than driving kms to training and games and paying for unnecessary new uniforms every year, esp if in rep. teams. Insurace fees and liability fees need better accountability as well.)

    • Quality over Thugery says:

      07:10pm | 29/02/12

      Billionaires have owned football clubs all over the planet. NRL and AFL are piss ants in the real picture of sport . Palmer is way out of his class here, a thug, and NRL and AFL shoud make the approach,  as it suits there style. True international Sport has standards that must be complied with, something the numb nuts can’t consume, that’s why they will never get recognition beyond the eastern seaboard, and they can throw as much c…....p as they like will never attain the credibility in their codes as much as the true international codes on football and rugby.

      ,

    • Michael C says:

      10:42am | 01/03/12

      how do you figure Clive Palmer (billionaire soccer club owner) suits the AFL style?  (NRL perhaps, they have private owners like Crowe, Holmes-a-Court {for a while}, Tinkler)
      Palmer to me far more fits the style/culture of soccer when compared to the EPL ownership/style model.  It’s crass.  It’s ugly and if that’s international sport then the longer we can retain an insulation barrier the better.
      btw - I realise now that you know nothing about AFL as your rant is pretty directed at the NRL when you talk about not getting beyond the eastern seaboard.
      So, remove ‘AFL’ and your rant makes far, far more sense - other than my assertion that Palmer would fit into the EPL quite well.

    • Skip says:

      07:19pm | 29/02/12

      Australian soccer is driven by and followed by racist egomaniacs that see themselves as bringing “civilisation” to a heathen country. Their bigotry is so overwhelming they won’t allow themselves to see anything worthwhile or redeeming in Australia’s rich and diverse sporting legacy, or anything else in Australian culture for that matter. They won’t even concede Australia even existed as a valid country before they or their parents stepped off the plane. They’re just another bunch of subscribers to “terra nullius” trying to do to those Australians that dare see value in their own existing culture, what the English did to the Aborigines. Even their assertions over the use of language is straight out of the British handbook of colonial conquest.

    • John says:

      08:21pm | 29/02/12

      Phew, A Bex and a lay down will fix it son.

    • Mark says:

      08:04pm | 29/02/12

      Soccer is a great game, but unfortunately the stench of corruption hangs thick in the air around the games administrators. Until there is cultural change at FIFA level and down, the Australian public will only take a passing interest in the game.

    • Luxretia says:

      08:42pm | 29/02/12

      Yes time for a chill pill

    • John says:

      08:26pm | 29/02/12

      Take it from me, an Independent A-League would last 2 years before coming under FFA Control.
      They would get less TV revenue because their TV package wouldn’t include Socceroos matches. 
      People talk about the EPL being independent but that took over 100 years. A-League is still a baby.

    • biff says:

      08:44pm | 29/02/12

      Soccer is going nowhere in Oz. Let’s pump money into games where we just fall a bit short, i.e., water polo, volleyball, women’s basketball etc. Soccer is more like a picnic game in Oz.

    • Mik says:

      09:21pm | 29/02/12

      Sports at elite level are so viciously political that they make the recent political happenings look like a peacekeepers’ picnic.

    • Dicko says:

      08:54am | 01/03/12

      Is it the same mob running the FFA led by Mr Lowy that pi33ed $43 million of taxpayers money up against the wall in the laughable soccer   oh i mean football world cup bid??

    • Blind Freddy says:

      08:57am | 01/03/12

      I would be nervous if I was a member of Clive Palmer’s other club - the Queensland LNP.

    • Stroker says:

      10:42am | 01/03/12

      You gotta love this conservative A-hole coming up against something his money can’t buy.
      Suck it up princess, I’m sure you can expand that girth a bit more.

      Better yet, why don’t you go frack yourself.

    • Michael C says:

      10:49am | 01/03/12

      One thing I’m often troubled by is that if I google ‘AFL annual report’ I can see them from current going back years and years.  Heaps of transparency.

      The FFA…..much harder to find anything beyond the 2008 report.

      It smells.

      Then, there’s the executive salaries.  We know the FFA has been getting about $8 million annually into it’s OPEX ideally to help run the ‘national teams’.  And yet, they are paying Ben Buckley ‘overs’ compared to other codes (it appears).

      And, anytime people complain about the package of A.Demetriou - we need to remember that the Govt funded FFA has inflated exec salaries after poaching John O’Neill and then Buckley.  Has Lowy ever made Demetriou an offer??  He’d be mad not to have.

      The Govt has done all it can, Crawford reports, funding opex, funding WC bids, Smith reports….....it’s a mess and a sad joke.

    • Mac Howard says:

      12:21pm | 01/03/12

      These guys may be “billionaires” but they’re certainly not pumping billions into the game. Palmer even ludicrously capped the gate at 5000 to save a few miserable thousands (by his standards). A week ago I saw him interviewed and he was bragging about how much the club (he) had. But it isn’t being spent on the players. or coaches and certainly not promoting the club here on the Gold Coast - I can’t remember when I last saw any promotion whatsoever for the club outside of Fox Sports.

      It may be that wages at the FFA are high. I don’t pretend to have the information. But is not those wages that have sunk GC Utd. It’s an arrogant owner that has a fraction of the wealth he brags of as far as the club is concerned and is totally unwilling to work with those who have the game’s best interest at heart..

    • Sunny says:

      10:35pm | 01/03/12

      Soccer is a top-down sport in this country. My brother in Darwin will need to shell out $400 in club rego fees alone to play this season. Where is all the money going? Certainly not to pay for grounds, referees etc but to pay Federation fees.

    • Peter says:

      11:25am | 03/03/12

      Can the rest of us have our $46,000,000.00 back that was wasted on a secondary sport in Australia.  That our Govt gave over so much money to a sport that does not generate enough interest in this country to warrant commercial TV stations was disgraceful. 

      Soccer is not taking over.  And we should never have pursued the world cup.

      Oh and one other thing.  It is like watching grass grow.

 

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